Coxiella burnetii is a species of concern because it causes the highly infective human disease Q fever, which is transmitted primarily by cattle, sheep and goats. A human can be infected by as few as one bacterium. The disease can be manifested as a chronic or acute case, depending on the strain. Symptoms can include high fever, severe headache, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain and chest pain. Q fever can also lead to pneumonia and hepatitis. The chronic form of the disease can cause endocarditis, an infection of a heart valve, and even lead to death.
In addition to being a public health threat, Coxiella burnetii is listed as a Category B bioterrorism agent because of its long-term environmental stability, resistance to heat and drying, extremely low infectious dose, aerosol infectious route and history of weaponization by various countries, according to the CDC.
To date, Georgia Tech and CDC researchers can differentiate between seven Coxiella burnetii strains, which come from Australia, the United States and Europe. Some strains are more infective than others, and the researchers' method determines not only the strain, but whether it's a Phase I or II strain depending on its ability to infect, Fernandez explained.
"The next step is to fine tune our model and increase the number of strains we can identify," Fernandez said. "There is a library of strain samples available to us, though the samples are sanitized with gamma radiation and rendered inactive before analysis." To identify strains, researchers examine the appearance of biomarker proteins in samples. "In some cases, we classify a strai
Contact: Jane M. Sanders
Georgia Institute of Technology Research News